The Last BlogScout

A couple of weeks ago, I went camping with Ollie.

Ok, it wasn’t proper camping, and it was only one night, but bearing in mind I am to nature what Stevie Wonder is to clay pigeon shooting, I was still well outside my comfort zone. In fact, there was no comfort in this particular zone whatsoever.

A few months back, the PTA at Ollie’s school announced they would be hosting a ‘Camp Out’ on the school field, and it would be an opportunity for parents and children to sleep in tents, whilst enjoying a BBQ, live music, and all the other delights which camping has to offer (although, at present, those delights elude me).

Stupidly, I made the mistake of asking Ollie whether he was keen, and naturally he thought it was a fantastic idea. I only had myself to blame, as I should know by now that there is very little Ollie will not try at least once – apart from vegetables.

So, even though we owned no camping equipment whatsoever (the last time I slept in a tent was the Leeds Festival in 2000, and the fact I haven’t since – despite the intervening eighteen years – gives you some idea of how ‘fun’ I find sleeping outdoors), I was now committed.

Having carried out some research, and armed with a discount code from Mountain Warehouse, a few weeks ago I purchased a three-man tent, two sleeping bags, a double airbed (with pump), and travel pillows.

My main reason for investing in a three man tent, even though it would only be myself and Ollie sleeping in it, was so I would have extra room (at 6’3”, I need all the space I can get). What I didn’t foresee, was my wife suggesting I can now take both boys camping at some point, but I can assure you that there is a far greater chance of Satan building a snowman.

Anyway, as the event drew near, it became obvious that the weather wasn’t going to be great – and even though some people believe rain adds to the ‘charm’ of camping, I am not one of those people. Look, some people believe in clairvoyants, the healing powers of little crystals, and that the earth is flat – so clearly some people are morons.

Still, having forked out a tidy sum – despite the discount – I wasn’t going to let rain spoil our plans, and even though I am more Paddington Bear than Bear Grylls, I was determined to put my differences with camping aside, for the sake of my rather excited son.

I did, however, begin to worry that I would be the only Dad who struggled erecting his tent, and that other men might judge me. I am sure this was nothing more than paranoia on my part, and they would be more likely to judge me for sniggering every time someone said ‘erect’; but I have always been sensitive about what people think of me, and the fact I am the antithesis of a manly-man often plays on my mind.

I therefore chose to partially erect *snigger* the tent in our living room beforehand, as a trial run. I wasn’t planning on hammering tent pegs into the carpet, obviously, but if I could at least form an idea of how the damn thing assembled, I might minimise the risk of being UselessDad™ throughout the main event.

Except, not only was the tent far too big for the area between our sofas (which really irritated me, as I pride myself on having excellent special awareness; some say it is my best – or only – quality), but I chose the very moment my wife was trying to get Isaac asleep to attempt my erection *still sniggering*, and made too much noise in the process.

After more than half an hour of struggling with a piece of canvas so vast, I had started to wonder whether Mountain Warehouse had sent me a fucking parachute by mistake, I gave up, and reassured myself that I had at least gained an impression of what was required.

However, as is so often the case in these situations, folding the tent back up into the bag from whence it came was damn-near impossible; and even though I had predicted this might be an issue (so I had memorised precisely how it unraveled in the first place),  simply reversing the process did not produce the results I was after. The fucking thing had seemingly doubled in size as soon as it was exposed to air.

I don’t know whether Mountain Warehouse had vacuum-packed my tent, or flattened it with an industrial machine of some description (perhaps a steam roller), but there was not a chance I was going to be able to fold everything back into the same size.

A woman in this situation will patiently unravel the tent again, before methodically repeating the process of re-folding the components over and over, until she has satisfactorily replicated the original factory environment. She will then delicately return the tent to its bag, zip it shut with a triumphant smile, and go about her business.

A manly-man, on the other hand, will bear-hug the tent until all the air has escaped, and it has been adequately squashed back into a package small enough to force into the bag. He will then use his manly arms to yank the zip closed.

Me? I unfolded and refolded the tent at least a dozen times, becoming redder and angrier with every attempt, whilst uttering words no inanimate object should ever be subjected to. Let’s just say, ‘camping’, ‘children’ and ‘countryside’ aren’t the only C-words my tent has encountered.

I did eventually get everything back into the bag, but not without a great deal of effort, some burst blood vessels, more terrible language, and the fear I may have broken something (aside from myself) in the process. Still, everything was packed away – albeit into a bag now straining at the zip – and I resigned myself to ‘winging it’ on the day.

Due to the fact the ‘Camp Out’ started at 4pm (once the main school rush had dispersed), and because I didn’t want to be putting my tent up after everyone else – when they would have nothing better to do than laugh at my inadequacies – I booked the afternoon off work and collected Ollie early.

Whilst we were still one of the last to arrive, I was relieved to discover most had already pitched their tents and were congregating on the playground, rather than pulling up chairs to witness my abject failure as a father.

This was for the best, because when it came to unpacking our tent again (I say ‘unpacking’, but as soon as I forced the zip open, it more or less erupted out, like a volcano of blue canvas), and I had a bit more room to study the components, the assembly was not as I had imagined.

Thankfully, some children were playing football on the other side of the school field, so I sent Ollie to join them, while I commenced shouting and swearing at the tent once more. I was extremely careful not to utter any Grade-A expletives this time, but I did lose it at one point, and hiss through gritted teeth:

“Look, I’m going to insert my pole A into your bracket B in a minute, you piece of shit.”

I’m not proud of it, but I was under pressure to complete – and maintain – my erection in a suitably fast time (if I had a pound…), and the stress got the better of me.

Thankfully, in a moment of clarity, everything suddenly clicked – both metaphorically and, in terms of bracket B (as well as my hip), literally – and by the time Ollie wandered back to see how I was getting on, my massive heap of canvas now slightly resembled a tent. Kiss my arse, Ray Mears.

Utilising Ollie in very much a ‘hold this here, and don’t let go or I’ll scream’ capacity, I managed to secure the tent pegs and complete the remainder of our flimsy shelter for the evening without too much fuss.

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The inner-tent then attached with comparative ease, and despite the pump for our air bed making an embarrassingly high-pitched wheezing sound (which could have easily been mistaken for my christening the tent with an elderly asthmatic prostitute), before long we were fully erect and good to go (sorry, I can’t help it).

Ollie appeared delighted, and even congratulated me with “Well done, Daddy, you can have a nap now” (I need to stop going for a nap every time I achieve something useful around the house), but I decided to celebrate my success with a can of beer instead.

Fortunately, we finished putting the tent up just in time, as the Heavens opened shortly afterwards, which – rather than shelter with me – was Ollie’s signal to go back to playing football.

As the rain got heavier, I tried to shout for him to come back; but he either couldn’t hear me, or had engaged his selective deafness, because he didn’t so much as glance in my direction. Conscious that he only had one change of clothes, which were supposed to be for the following day, I reluctantly left the sanctuary of our tent to drag him back inside.

Whilst he initially refused, once I had carefully explained the situation using words like ‘soaked’, ‘pneumonia’ and ‘bollocking’, he eventually returned to dry out. The fact I was now drenched as well did nothing for my mood, and the final straw was when he stumbled into the tent, kicked my freshly opened can of beer over, and soaked our ‘porch’. Fortunately, the can stayed out of the sleeping quarters, and missed soaking our bags, which was the only thing that saved Ollie from being launched over the nearest hedge.

I have to say, however, once my rage subsided, the remainder of the evening went really well, and the PTA did an amazing job – with a BBQ, music, marshmallows, and games for the kids (including a treasure hunt around the playground).

Ok, I got barely two hours sleep – thanks in no small part to the fact I had purchased a sleeping bag ever-so-slightly too short, and because Ollie somehow managed to sleep like a starfish (despite being in a bag of his own), which resulted in me spending most of the night with his knee embedded in my lower spine – but our first ever camping trip, and my first night in a tent for eighteen years, was a relative success.

I should be ready to do it all again in, oh, another eighteen years or so….

Thanks for reading x

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Blog Boy School

On Tuesday, Isaac started primary school – and, as expected, it could have gone better.

Don’t get me wrong, it could have easily gone much worse (this is Isaac); but compared to some of the little angels at the school gate, who behaved impeccably for their parents – practically skipping into the reception classroom – ours still claimed a podium finish in the ‘sulky little twat’ event.

Admittedly, it’s not like his refusal to accept school came as a shock, since there were plenty of warnings:

  1. He was the same when he went to pre-school (and even, on a few occasions, at nursery – which he loved);
  2. Ollie was the same, when he started reception four years ago. In fact, he not only screamed when my wife dropped him off each morning, he refused to take part in P.E. for months (even, on one occasion, running away and hiding under a desk in an empty classroom). To this day, he still refuses to take his socks off when doing any kind of sport, lest his classmates catch a glimpse of his perfectly ordinary feet;
  3. I was also the same at his age, when I went to primary school (a point my mother has raised on more than one occasion since Tuesday); and, until DNA tests prove otherwise, I assume that Isaac’s genetic make-up is roughly 50% mine.

So, on the basis the male side of our family is comprised solely of wimps, who don’t deal well with change, we really had no reason to believe Isaac would take the transition into primary school education with anything other than a massive fucking tantrum.

Still, ridiculous as it may sound, my wife and I still clung on to the slight possibility he might just ‘pull it out of the bag’ at the last minute.  Of course, the only thing he actually pulled out of the bag at the last minute was his P.E. kit, which was then launched across the room with a banshee-like scream, but this was the least of our worries.

You see, all parents have concerns before their child starts school; but whereas some might panic that their son or daughter will struggle to make friends, or may even get bullied, my three main worries were as follows:

1. Toiletting

The stubborn little bastard won’t go to the toilet. At all.

It’s not that he doesn’t need to go, more that he cannot bare the thought of anyone knowing he is having a wee (including, sometimes, his own parents). He would far sooner give himself stomach ache (and Christ knows what other medical issues), by storing it up all day until home time, than just go to the toilet like any normal child would.

Thankfully, my wife also appears to be part-camel, and he has inherited his strong bladder from her (another Daddy-DNA bullet dodged, since I have the bladder of a particularly-incontinent tea-drinking pensioner), so at least there is only a limited risk of wetting himself.

2. Writing

He writes backwards. This is entirely because he is left-handed, and it is apparently quite normal with left-handed children, but his letters are sometimes so obscure, I did have a niggling concern that his teachers might assume he is a Russian spy;

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That’s his name at the top

3. His hair

I wrote in a recent blog entry about his long hair (https://middlerageddad.com/2018/06/01/blogs-and-girls/), and how much he adores it, but he has recently started worrying about being picked on because of it – and even, the day before starting school, confessed that he was scared the other children might think he is a girl.

Aside from this breaking my heart a little, it also gave me the rather unnatural concern that he may try to prove he is a boy by getting his willy out for all to see. It was a fleeting worry – since he won’t even announce going to the toilet in front of others – but it was a worry nonetheless.

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I also have the rather selfish concern that, for three days a week, I will be doing the morning school run, and I was meant to spend the summer practising doing pony-tails, pig-tails, French plaits etc., but time ran away with me.

What I had not anticipated for his first day, was that it would take nearly an hour of screaming and kicking to even get his underpants on (I should stress that the screaming and kicking was all him), and at one point the thrashing became so violent, I contemplated phoning our local priest.

In the end, my wife patiently went through every pair he owns (and he seemingly has hundreds), in an attempt to calm him down, and somehow succeeded just in time for us to leave the house.

Ok, he refused to wear the school jumper, and would only put on the embroidered polo-shirt if he was allowed to wear a dinosaur t-shirt underneath (which was, incidentally, highly visible), but we chose to pick our battles, and the very fact we got him out of the door with any clothes on at all was frankly a miracle. We even managed a couple of obligatory ‘first day’ photos in the garden, which up until this year have only featured Ollie.

When we got to the playground, I have to admit I could see why it might be daunting for Isaac – or any child – to enter that environment for the first time.

The intake at our school is sixty children, and all of them had at least one, if not both parents with them for their first day; so there were upwards of two-hundred bodies swarming around the classroom door (and that’s not including the children and parents of the neighbouring classrooms, which comprise the ‘Infants’ half of the school).

To pass the time before the bell (and subsequent scene I was expecting Isaac to make), I looked around at all the other parents, to see if I could determine which had experienced the ‘first day’ before with older siblings, and which were newbies. The difference was very obvious.

For example, the newbies often looked more nervous than their children, and some were already emotional at the thought of their little baby going off on their own. Many were uttering the usual phrases, like ‘where has the time gone?’ and ‘it’ll seem so quiet at home now’, between tearful sniffs (hey, I’m not judging, I cried like a little girl at Long Lost Family the other week).

In contrast, the seasoned parents like us (and we only have two kids; some of these idiots with three or more really need to show some self-control), had adopted the same universal expression – which was a mixture of sympathy for the newbies (‘I remember when we were like that’) and sheer fucking glee that the latest/last of our offspring was finally someone else’s responsibility for a large chunk of each weekday.

The difference between the two types of parent was even more obvious when the bell finally went, and the reception teachers came out to collect their new recruits for the academic year.

All the newbie parents squeezed their little darlings tightly one final time, wished them a wonderful first day, and sobbed as they watched them disappear through the door. They then hung around outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of their son or daughter smiling and having fun already, as a form of comfort for their childless journey home.

Some even made a point of talking to the teachers, to try and cram all of their child’s little foibles into one barrage of verbal diarrhoea – as if the teachers haven’t already dealt with every kind of weird child many times before (apart from, perhaps, Isaac). It was as though these parents simply couldn’t bear to leave the playground.

Then, there was the rest of us. The battle-hardened parents with older siblings, who had given up caring some time ago. As one, we simply ushered (in some cases, pushed) our kids towards the teachers, offered a half-hearted ‘you’ll be fine’; ‘have fun’; or ‘don’t fuck this up’ (to our children, not the teachers); then turned and ran with unbridled joy and freedom.

None of us looked back, and we certainly didn’t hang around (in case our particular child did try to escape). Most importantly, we didn’t even make eye-contact with any of the teachers, let alone talk to one of them, in case it slowed down our escape.

Even if we had spoken, it would only have been along the lines of:

“He’s your responsibility now, so you fucking deal with him! You’re only in teaching for the holidays anyway, admit it, so you’re going to damn well earn them this year. Try not to let him break you by 3.15pm on the first day!”

(Then turn and run away, cackling gleefully).

In our case, Isaac immediately clung to us when he noticed other children going through the gate, and had to be physically detached by his favourite teaching assistant from pre-school, who we shall call Mr Shaw (because, well, that’s his name). I doubt Mr Shaw will ever read this, but we owe him our thanks; because he came over, gave Isaac a hug, and then quickly carried him through the gate before he had chance to react.

Thankfully, it transpires the limited amount of concern we had dedicated to Isaac’s first day (compared to when Ollie started, and I couldn’t concentrate at work through worry), was completely unwarranted; because – by all accounts – it had gone about as well as we could have hoped.

As I said at the outset, it was by no means perfect, because he apparently hardly spoke all day, and didn’t seem to make any new friends; but at least we didn’t get a phone call around lunch time asking us to collect him and never bring him back.

When it comes to school collection time, particularly in those first few weeks, you dread being the parent who the teachers come over to for a ‘chat’; because as soon as that happens you know it’s your child who has created an issue. It’s like a walk of shame, only it’s the teacher doing the walking.

In contrast, there is no greater feeling of relief, than when the teacher heads towards you, only to detour or walk past at the last minute. It’s the playground equivalent of your airport transfer bus arriving at a shitty hotel when abroad, then discovering it’s for someone else.

Isaac even seemed relatively enthusiastic about returning the next day (which was something of a relief, because I was due to do the school run on my own) – that is, so long as he could have new shoes for the second day (and every subsequent day thereafter).

See, I told you he’s odd.

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Me And My Big Blog

(So you don’t get the wrong idea, the ‘blog’ part of this week’s title is intended to replace the word ‘gob’ – as in ‘me and my big gob’. I just wouldn’t want you mistakenly thinking I was referring to my knob, that’s all – which IS sizeable, thanks for asking)….

On Tuesday afternoon, I stupidly agreed to give a talk to a group of prospective young law students at my wife’s school, about how to pursue a career as a solicitor, and what to expect if they do. This, for a number of reasons, was a terrible idea.

Firstly, inviting me to talk to people about how great it is to be a lawyer, is like inviting Donald Trump to talk about how fantastic immigration is. I don’t really enjoy it (being a lawyer, not immigration), and so I find it hard to enthuse about the profession to others. I’d probably have had an easier time trying to convince people to support Manchester United.

Secondly, it would be fair to say I am not the world’s greatest public speaker. In fact, it would be even fairer to say, that I am to public speaking, what Professor Stephen Hawking is to the pole vault (I’ve checked that line with him, and he’s fine with it, because he has a wicked sense of humour).

I never really did much public speaking at school, most likely because I was extremely self-conscious about my image, had nothing even remotely interesting to say, and for a large part of my teens, I had the horrible habit of passing out in the most humiliating of circumstances.

I did take part in one speech during sixth form, when a group of us entered the ‘Young Enterprise’ competition, but it didn’t exactly go well. Essentially, our business structure was woeful, our product was fundamentally flawed (we set up a company producing beanbags, which later turned out to be highly flammable – something your average beanbag customer isn’t keen on), and for some inexplicable reason, I was left in charge of writing the script for our final presentation to all the other participating schools in the North West.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t always the comedic legend you now know and love, and some of my jokes were a little off-target. Ok, they were just plain shit. It wasn’t even the sort of speech that should have had jokes in the first place, let alone jokes about beanbags setting on fire (and for reasons which now escape me, unfortunate references to the clergy), so I don’t think the organisers appreciated us laughing our way through it.

Ah well, I only took part in the Young Enterprise competition, so that I had something slightly interesting to put in my ‘National Record of Achievement’ book (which was given to every student in the late-1990s, to log all of their wonderful school experiences, skills and talents – supposedly for the purpose of impressing prospective employers and universities).

By the time I got into the upper sixth form, my NRA was looking woefully barren, because I wasn’t sporty, couldn’t play a musical instrument, had the acting skills of your average Hollyoaks cast member, and had literally nothing interesting going for me (other than the fact I was relatively bright). So, I signed up to run a small business for a year, in the hope it would make me sound entrepreneurial, whereas it only really served to flag me up as someone who flagrantly breaches Health and Safety Regulations (rather ironic, considering what I now do for a living).

I know I’m going off tangent now, but how fucking pointless were those National Record of Achievement books? At the time, I thought it would be my passport into a good career, and would see me breezing through any interviews I happened to attend (“Ok, I don’t necessarily have the qualifications for this job, but I did once take part in a sponsored walk for charity, and I was a ‘sixer’ in my local scout group”). I bet the organisers were so grateful to the National Rifle Association, so that at least they weren’t the most embarrassing ‘NRA’ in history.

That experience of humiliation in front of a large crowd, was enough to steer me away from public speaking for many years afterwards, and in fact I cannot recall another occasion when I was required to speak to a room full of people, until my brother asked me to be his best man about five years ago.

To say that was a different experience to the Young Enterprise talk, would be an understatement. Admittedly, I was in my early thirties then, and had a much better idea of what my audience might find funny (and, unlike the Young Enterprise presentation, this time I was expected to be funny, so it was far less inappropriate to be making knob gags), but my speech went down really well. Really well.

Admittedly, this could have been because the room was largely pissed, or perhaps I just got lucky with my material, but I got loads of laughs, and everyone complimented me on my speech afterwards. It was an incredible feeling, and one I’ll never forget.

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NB: Not actually me.

Maybe I wasn’t terrible at public speaking after all? Perhaps I could gauge an audience, and what they might find interesting and funny? All those years of avoiding public speaking – had I been destined to talk to large crowds all along?

No, of course I fucking hadn’t. I don’t know why the best man speech I delivered at my brother’s wedding was so well received, but it sure as hell wasn’t because my material was pure comedy gold, as I had so briefly hoped.

I know this for a fact, because I replicated large chunks of that same speech just a few weeks later, when I was again given the honour of being best man (this time for one of my oldest friends), and I think it’s fair to say that I died on my arse. The jokes which had worked so well less than a month earlier, were met with either silence or, worse, disgusted groans.

As I stood there, faced with mounting disapproval from the wedding party, it dawned on me that later parts of the speech were even more distasteful, so I tried to cut bits out in advance, with the result that none of it made sense. It was horrible, and the experience  – as well as the feeling that I had let my best mate down – still haunts my dreams even now (in fact, I’m developing a cold sweat just typing this).

This isn’t just my negative interpretation/recollection of events, either, because someone I had never met before, approached me in the bar afterwards (as I consoled my battered ego with alcohol), and he simply patted me on the shoulder and offered a sympathetic ‘tough crowd, huh?’

You fucking think?

You can see why, returning to the realm of public speaking this week, particularly to a room full of grumpy hormonal teenagers (as all teenagers are), did not exactly fill me with joy. The fact that the talk was optional, and aimed at students who were actually considering law as a career (and should therefore be interested in what I had to say), did nothing to assuage my deep apprehension that I would be faced with something like this:

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Or this:

To be honest, I only agreed to do it, because my wife’s school needed a lawyer to come in and talk to the students, they couldn’t find anyone else, and I figured it might earn my wife some bonus points with the powers that be at school (and, in turn, I might earn some bonus points with her – never underestimate the lengths a man will go to, in the pursuit of ‘special time’).

I’m told the talk went well. There were clearly parts where I started to lose their interest, evidenced by the fact I’m pretty certain one of them nodded off at one point, but I managed to salvage the crowd by discussing some of my more interesting cases over the years, and so the talk ended on a relatively positive note.

I told them about the rollercoaster crash I dealt with, where a pigeon decided to end it all, by sticking his – or her – neck onto the rails as a ride approached, causing a loss of power (and one avian head) which ultimately led to an accident – because the ride operator wasn’t paying attention.

I told them about the client who contacted me, because he had been injured driving through a puddle, which sounds ridiculous, but the puddle was so vast it ended up completely swallowing his truck, and turned out to be more of a small lake than a puddle.

I even told them about the elderly gentleman who, when asked for photographs of the pothole that had caused him to trip, as he went to fetch his morning newspaper, chose to also send me photographs of his badly grazed penis. It later turned out that he was only wearing his dressing gown and slippers at the time he tripped and, as he soared through the air, said dressing gown flew open, exposing his shrivelled landing gear to some nasty, tarmac-induced damage. I shall never forget the mental image of him gliding along, like some wrinkly flying squirrel, for the rest of my life.

And, if that mental image doesn’t make you smile too, then there is something seriously wrong with you.

So, having started and finished this week’s entry talking about penises, I think we can all agree on one thing: knob gags are always funny.

 

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I Feel A Bit Bloggy

Believe it or not, I wasn’t always the rugged specimen of manly-man that you now know and love. I used to be quite the nerd in my youth.

Before – Nerdy                              After – Manly

Actually, no, I wasn’t a nerd. People just assumed I was, because I was tall and skinny, quite academic, had to wear glasses (damn you, dreadful eyesight), and wasn’t part of the ‘cool’ group. I probably had the potential to be quite popular, I think, but unfortunately my inner-Fonz had been trapped inside the frame of Screech from Saved By The Bell.

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I really tried hard to distance myself from the geeky persona my body had lumbered me with, but to no avail. Even supporting Stockport County, which I felt sure would give me an edge, and win me a few admiring glances from the girls (‘look, he follows a shit football team, how cool is that?!’), turned out to be lady-repellent. Who knew?

Then, to top it all off, in my latter teenage years (and, to some extent, occasionally since then), I have had a habit of blacking out every so often. Hardly the manliest of ailments, I grant you, but equally there’s not much I can do about it. I’ve even tried to make it sound less girly, by referring to ‘blacking out’ rather than ‘fainting’ or ‘coming over all queer’, but we might as well call it what it was, to be honest.

Clearly, I’ve never been conscious through one of these episodes, so I don’t know what I look like when it happens, but I rather fear that, instead of hitting the deck like a manly plank of wood, it’s far more likely that I ‘swoon’, as my knees buckle from under me. Let’s face it, I’m just not lucky enough to pass out like a bloke.

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Would you believe, in the whole of Google, that was the only decent picture I could get of someone swooning? That’s how fucking girly it is.

Thankfully, it hasn’t happened in a few years, and the last time was when my optician tried to kill me with some eye drops in 2013, so that wasn’t entirely my fault (nor his, for that matter), but certainly the first few episodes of fainting could not have come at a worse time – either due to the circumstances in which I lost consciousness, or the damage they did to my already fragile teenage reputation.

The first time I fainted, I was 16 (note to self: potential opening line for autobiography?) and, as far as maximising humiliation goes, you really need to aim for collapsing in front of all 270-odd pupils in your year at school (and by that, I mean the number is an estimate, not that they were all odd).

Let me set the scene. It was the day of our Year 11 photo, which was intended to be a memento of the five horrible years we had spent together at Poynton County High School (subsequently re-branded as ‘Poynton High School and Performing Arts College’, to make it sound more trendy), and because I was one of the tallest in the year, I was required to stand on the back row of some bleachers, which had been erected in the school hall.

As you might imagine, organising the best part of three hundred largely un-cooperative reprobates, into something resembling a symmetrical year group on some steps, was not the easiest task for the photographer, and so it was ages before the picture was ready to be taken.

Throughout this time, yours truly had been waiting patiently on the back row, resplendent in shirt, tie, and thick jumper, surrounded by equally-warm teenagers on one of the hottest days of the year, and I was beginning to feel rather woozy (or something less girly and shit-sounding), long before David-fucking-Bailey got ready to say ‘cheese’.

I distinctly remember thinking to myself at the time, that we appeared to be ready for the photograph to be taken, and if I could just hang on a few more minutes, I could then make a hasty exit for some fresh air. At this point, however, I had never fainted before, so I wasn’t quite aware of how imminent my collapse was. Turns out, it was really fucking imminent, because that’s the last thing I remember.

Subsequent reports, ranged from me collapsing onto the row in front, before being gently helped down by my peers, to the rather more dramatic ‘crowd surf’, which one person recalled me attempting (yes! I was finally cool!). Turns out, I could have leaped to the ground, commando-rolled, and then skidded to a halt right before the camera, with one hand firmly entrenched in a ‘devil-horns’ rock pose, and I still would have looked a dick.

It also matters not, that I was merely the first of a few students to faint on the day, because I was the first, and I was the only student to be absent from the photograph they ultimately ended up selecting, so I’m the one people remember.

I still have the photo at home (not sure why, when I’m not even on it), and a lad called Ric – who followed me out of the hall just a few minutes later, but still managed to narrowly make the final cut – can be best described as a shade somewhere between ‘Dijon mustard’ and ‘What the fuck did you feed the dog this time?’, yet no one cares, because he’s still on the bloody photo.

I had hoped that, once I left school, and ditched the people who had not been terribly kind to me during my time there, the incident might have been forgotten, but then some dickhead posted a copy on Facebook not so long ago, tagging a few of my friends, and the inevitable comments of ‘oh yeah, who was the tall lad who passed out from the back row?’ appeared shortly afterwards.

Rather than let them work it out for themselves, and ridicule me in my absence, I decided to step up and admit my role as pioneer of ‘The Great Lemming Photo of 1996’, so I commented on the picture, and tried to laugh it off in a ‘ha, yeah guys, wasn’t it funny?!’ kind of way, as if the incident didn’t still haunt my dreams sometimes. I even briefly contemplated adding a ‘lol’, against my better judgment and everything I stand for, but opted against it at the last second.

I did, however, change my profile picture to one of me with our two boys, before posting the comment, so that my former classmates could see I had clearly had sex – at least twice – since we were last acquainted. That’s right, ladies, I’ve turned into quite the stud.

Unfortunately, on the few other occasions I have passed out since that ill-fated day, the embarrassment factor has not really subsided. Despite the photograph incident being towards the end of Year 11, I managed to faint twice more before leaving sixth form just a couple of years later: once during a whole-school assembly at the end of term (although, this time, I recognised the symptoms in advance, and managed to make it out of the sports hall before hitting the deck) and once whilst stood at the front of a chemistry class, which resulted in me falling backwards into a large dustbin. I mean, you really couldn’t make this shit up.

Then, I thankfully left school, and moved to University. A fresh start, where virtually no one knew of my previous light-headed escapades.

Until my 20th birthday.

In my defence, I had been particularly unwell in the days leading up to my celebratory night out, and was in two minds about whether to cancel, but I forced myself to go (nothing should stand between a student and a drinking binge), and struggled through the meal we had booked at a nearby pub.

Half-way through eating, I felt decidedly sick, hot, and faint, so I made my excuses and headed towards the bathrooms I had spotted on the way in. As I staggered down the corridor, the familiar clamminess and tunnel vision descended, and I knew I was about to be decidedly more horizontal than I would have liked. The last thing I remembered, was putting my hand out to push open the swirling toilet door.

As I regained consciousness, and my vision slowly returned, it dawned on me that I had only partially made it into the bathroom, as my top half appeared to be very firmly on tiles (with my head keeping the door propped open), but my legs were splayed out into the carpeted corridor.

I was faintly (awful pun) aware of voices asking if I was ok, and began to feel very embarrassed at yet again making a scene whilst passing out. It was only then, however, as my eyesight fully returned, I noticed the ‘lady products’ machine directly above my head, and I was struck by the grim realisation that I had apparently dived head-first into the ladies’ toilet, rather than the gents.

Fortunately, it hasn’t really happened since then (the fainting, rather than the uninvited entry into female bathrooms – although that hasn’t happened either, I might add), but I’m not entirely sure what has changed. I don’t know whether it is something I have subconsciously altered in my life, or whether I’ve simply grown out of it. Either way, I’m not complaining.

At first, I thought it might be down to low blood sugar, but my diet hasn’t really altered as I’ve grown older, so that probably isn’t the cause. I’m also roughly the same height as I was in my teens too, so that surely rules out ‘lack of blood to the brain’.

Unless, of course, I spent most of my formative years with an erection, and that’s where all the blood was going, but I feel certain I would remember if I had been constantly walking around with my dangle at an angle. Besides which, surely my peers would have ridiculed me for that, rather than for treating our school photo like my own personal rock festival?

In any event, I recall that the ladies who were frequenting the pub bathroom on my 20th birthday, were actually very concerned about me, as I rudely interrupted their ablutions by bursting through the door and collapsing before them.

I imagine they would have been slightly less accommodating, had I been saluting them from the front of my trousers at the time.

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